Boston Celtics: Boston has one more division title run left in them. The Kendrick Perkins trade last year sent them in somewhat of a downward spiral and the key player they received in return, Jeff Green, is out for the year with a heart ailment. Despite this, the core group of Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce will be able to make a good run this season. Rondo is one of the league’s elite point guards and he was the subject of many trade rumors during the off-season, again. It seems that these rumors only continue to inspire Rondo and he will have another big year. The “Boston Three Party” of Allen, Garnett and Pierce are poised to hold off the Knicks for the division this season.
They improved their bench despite the Green injury. They swapped Brandon Bass for Glen “Big Baby” Davis who signed a fairly hefty 4-year $26 Million deal. Bass was better than Davis in nearly every statistical category, despite playing three fewer minutes per game. Bass has two years left on a four-year $16 Million deal so he is cheaper, too. If Jermaine O’Neal can stay healthy, he will surely help and rookie big man JaJuan Johnson should also help the Celtics front line. Johnson is a very capable shot-blocker and should also help as a scorer off the bench with his soft touch around the basket and range out to 18-feet. They also added veterans Mike Sweetney and Chris Wilcox.. Marquis Daniels’ impact off the bench will also be very important to Boston’s success as he averaged 10 points per game last year, but with Green gone, he will be called on to score more for the second unit. The Celtics are deeper than the Knicks and even if some of their veterans will require added rest, Rajon Rondo’s ability to make his team better will carry this team over the top.
New York Knicks: One of the most publicized signings of the free-agency period was the Knicks’ signing Tyson Chandler. Chandler, who seemingly transformed the Mavericks’ formerly porous defense, was inked to a four-year $58 Million deal. Did they overpay? Probably but it is a risk they need to take to improve their defense. However, the biggest question will be, can Chandler, who has had trouble over the course of his career staying healthy do so this season without a proper training camp and in the NBA’s grueling, compressed 66-game schedule. Only time will tell.
It will also be very interesting to see how Carmelo Anthony will do in his first “full” season in Mike D’Antoni’s system. Hardwood Paroxysm’s Scott Leedy elaborated on the possibility that we could see Carmelo Anthony evolve into a point-forward in this system as the Knicks backcourt is very thin, which might be an understatement. If Anthony becomes as versatile as a playmaker as he is a scorer, we could see an MVP trophy with his name on it in the immediate future. Landry Fields and Toney Douglas will likely be the starting their starting backcourt. The rest of their backcourt options include, rookie Iman Shumpert, Mike Bibby and Bill Walker. They did sign Baron Davis but he is recovering from a back injury and will not be back until later in the season. If Davis returns in shape and motivated, the Knicks will truly be a scary team. The better news for Davis is that he can meet lots of fellow hipsters in Brooklyn, too. Also, hopefully for the Knicks, the Amar’e Stoudemire’s knees can withstand the amount of back-to-back’s they will have. Their frontcourt may be younger than Boston’s, but neither Chandler nor Stoudemire have managed to consistently stay healthy over the course of their careers. The health of their frontcourt as well as finding some quality and consistency in their backcourt will be paramount to them making the next step.
Philadelphia 76ers: The 76ers are a team in a weird place. They made the playoffs last season but the Miami Heat made quick work of them. They return most of their pieces from this team. Andre Iguodala always seems to always be on the trading-block but the 76ers have yet to deal him after what seems like 2+ years of “they are definitely trading him” talk. If they again do not deal Igoudala, they will have a team that can make the playoffs and get bounced in the first round again by one of the east’s top-tier teams. Point guard Jrue Holiday is coming off a solid season where he averaged 14 points and 6 assists. Spencer Hawes and Elton Brand form a solid starting frontcourt and Thaddeus Young gives the Sixers a solid 12 points and 5 rebounds off the bench. Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks will also be solid scorers off the bench. Although Meeks started 64 games last season, it is time for Evan Turner to start showing why he was picked second overall in the 2010 draft. Turner is in need of a breakout year after being far from impressive last season. However, unless Turner emerges as an elite player, I don’t see them finishing any higher than 3rd in this division. In fact, even if he does, I still find the idea that they could surpass either team above them inconceivable.
New Jersey Nets: The Nets are waiting. The man they are waiting for is Dwight Howard. Rumored to be Howard’s number-one choice of destination, the Nets will have a bright future if they figure out a way to get a deal done for Howard to team him up with Deron Williams. Williams has yet to sign an extension but surely, any deal resulting in Dwight Howard joining him would make that negotiation much easier for the “Prokor-Hova’s”. Without Howard and the recent injury to center Brook Lopez, the Nets are going to be in for a rough year. Lopez will be out for months with a broken foot and Deron Williams will have very little to work with. The Nets are going to be awful unless the Howard deal gets done. Marshon Brooks was one of the best scorers in the draft and hopefully for the Nets he can generate some offense to help Williams share the load. Kris Humphries will also have to carry a larger load down low now that Brook Lopez is out. Anthony Morrow is also an efficient shooter that will be able to get some good numbers. However, unless the Howard deal is done, sneaking into the playoffs is a very unlikely scenario.
Toronto Raptors: The Nets outlook for the upcoming year may be bleak, but at least there is some semblance of a plan for a way out. In Toronto, their journey out of the basement is one that still seems unclear. They are dependent on their young guys to develop and reach their potential. DeMar Derozan is one of the best young guards in the league and he is oozing with potential. This year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him become their leading scorer. Andrea Bargniani is a very good scorer at center but is not very tough defensively. I think I might have given his defense a compliment. Jerryd Bayless did prove to be a good player off the bench in Toronto and was improving his skills as a “true” point guard. Jose Calderon is a solid point guard but he is now on the other side of 30 and his best days might be behind him. If Bayless continues to improve, he could eat up some of Calderon’s minutes. Ed Davis has lots of potential at power forward but he had some injury issues and Amir Johnson took most of the minutes there. Toronto lacks a true star. They are hopeful that Jonas Valanciunas will be that star when he comes over from Europe next year. The continued development of Derozan and that of Davis will be key for them turning things around up north. If the Howard deal doesn’t get done, I can see the Raptors passing the Nets in this division but for this year, their ceiling isn’t much higher than that.